Don’t Worry About School Security. Joe Da Plumber Will Keep Your Kids Safe.

Remember Joe da Plumber?  Actually, his name is Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, and he became a right-wing media icon during the 2008 Presidential campaign, when he asked Barack a question during a campaign stop.  Joe claimed that he wanted to buy a plumbing business, but the proposed Obama tax program would have screwed up the whole deal, which immediately got Joe linked to the McCain campaign as representing the ‘average American’ who McCain was going to help.

joe            Now the fact that Joe da Plumber wasn’t actually a licensed plumber; the fact that McCain got involved with Charlie Keating, the banker who rooked tens of thousands of ‘average’ Americans out of their life savings; oh well, oh well. But until and even after the 2016 election, Joe da (unlicensed)  Plumber made a nice few bucks shooting his mouth off on Fox News.

Joe then got a job with Chrysler, but now he’s started a new gig involving school security products, which is clearly a growth field.  Joe’s hawking something called Swiftshield, a device that locks school or office doors against anyone trying to break in; the website claims that for $139.99 you get a product that is ‘virtually indestructible’ and ensures ‘peace of mind.’

For all the talk  by Republicans about the virtues of the free market, it’s amazing how they have no trouble cozying up to the ‘deep state’ when there’s money involved. The latest giveaway is $350 million that schools can use to ‘harden’ their entrances, but this dough is a drop in the bucket compared to what would have to be spent to protect all our school kids. The group which lobbies for the security manufacturers, the Security Industry Association, says that a comprehensive, nationwide security plan for all schools would run about $11 billion.

No wonder school systems have either implemented or are considering programs to arm classroom teachers. After all, a Glock only costs around $600, and I’ll sell you my used Model 19 right for $400 bucks.  The fact that being trained to respond to lethal force with lethal force is something that even most cops don’t do very well shouldn’t stand in the way of sticking guns in every teacher’s desk, and more than 200 school districts around the country evidently agree.

Now what I am about to say should not in any way be considered as diminishing the pain, tragedy and community trauma which follows from a mass shooting within a school building (e.g., Sandy Hook, Parkland, etc.) But notwithstanding those horrific events, the fact is that public K-12 schools happen to be very, very safe environments, and the safety level has been remarkably stable for the past 25 years.

The data for the graph comes from the National Center for Education Statistics, which just happens to be a branch of the Department of Education:

These numbers, incidentally, include not only students who die from violence within a school building, but also going to and from school, as well as going to school events at some other location.  In 2015, there were roughly 51 million children enrolled in public K-12 schools. Which means that the national violent death rate was less than 1 percent, and even though homicide is the second leading cause of death for the age cohorts 5 – 18, less than 2% of those 2015 deaths occurred within an educational environment. The bottom line is that schools are often much safer environments for children than the neighborhoods in which schools are located.

The takeaway from this data is very simple, namely, that once again a terrible but relatively rare event, like a mass school shooting, creates an atmosphere of fear and exaggerated concern which leads to solutions that simply don’t fit the problem at hand. But why should we be surprised? After all, with guys like Joe da Plumber leading the conversation, why should we expect anything less?



The NRA Apologizes – Kind Of.

I began to get the feeling, after the shooting in Santa Isla, that the patience of Americans to continue to put up with the gun industry’s resistance to any degree of new regulation was coming to an end.  Don’t ask me why, don’t ask me how, but the meek and almost non-existent comments reminding us about the sanctity of the 2nd Amendment were decidedly less strident than what the industry and their supporters were saying after Sandy Hook.  Now I’m not talking about loudmouths like Joe the Plumber, whose rant about the relative importance of his guns versus the unimportance of human life is just a reminder that the 24-hour information cycle will make room for anyone who wants to shoot his/her mouth off, no matter how stupid or uninformed their comments happen to be.  I’m talking about the comments from various right-wing politicians who, like Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst, refused to explicitly exonerate the gun industry even though her campaign ads show her shooting at a target while a voice-over intones how she’s going to “take aim” at waste in DC.

Yesterday I received a digital letter from the NRA-ILA, which represents the NRA in legislative battles in Washington and in the individual states.  The letter didn’t mention the Santa Barbara massacre per se, instead it covered episodes in Texas, where 2nd-Amendment supporters demonstrated their reverence for their Constitutional rights by showing up at Jack in the Box and Chipotle outlets openly carrying AR-15’s.  In both cases the restaurant managers told them to take their gun rights out of the stores, which of course provoked the usual flurry of on-line yelling about how the poor gun owner is always misunderstood. But the NRA, to my utter amazement, didn’t side with the idiots who walked into those restaurants waving their AR-15’s.  In fact,  they characterized the behavior of the gun-toters as “weird,” which is the first time I can ever recall the NRA saying anything negative about any gun owner at all.

lapierreBut what was really interesting was the explanation given by the NRA for why the behavior of the Texas dopes didn’t add up.  And here is what the letter says:  “If we exercise poor judgement, our decisions will have consequences.  These consequences could be simple and transitory, such as watching a trophy buck bound away into the woods after a missed shot from an improperly sighted rifle. They could also be lasting and consequential, such as turning an undecided voter into an antigun voter because of causing that person fear or offense. In ways small and large, we are all in this together, and we all have a role to play in preserving our cherished freedoms for ourselves and future generations.”

The truth is that if a bunch of raucous kids storm into a Burger King with loaded AR’s, one of the damn things might just go off, which could be a much more “consequential” result of mis-behavior with guns than anything having to do with changing a voter’s mind.  But in more than twenty years of listening to the NRA, I have never heard them ever make an appeal that had anything to do with changing or influencing the opinions of people who don’t own guns.  The NRA has enlarged and motivated its membership by indefatigably adopting an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ approach to every public discussion about guns.  Gun owners are the ‘good guys’ and everyone else is, well, everyone else.  Believe me when I tell you that this communication marks a very dramatic change.

I suspect the gun lobby quietly understands that their belligerent and ‘take no prisoners’ approach to talking about gun regulations may be coming to an end.  The Republican optimism about the upcoming elections has faded; even Rand Paul is trying to appeal to the mid-stream.  For that matter, the great upsurge in gun sales has also come to an end, which doesn’t augur well for continued growth in the membership of the NRA.  It will be interesting to see whether they can figure out how to talk to people who don’t bow down and scrape every time the 2nd Amendment is used to excuse bad behavior with guns.